My Pilgrims experience!

The reason I decided to apply for a Comenius grant to be able to go to Pilgrims and attend a professional development course, back in 2011, was the same reason most  teachers go to Pilgrims for: new ideas, to be refreshed and to experience the unique Pilgrims difference, which focuses on our continuous personal and professional development.

Its international environment, ensures you practice and refresh your own English at all times, and also make new friendships, that last a lifetime!  

Six years later, in 2017, I came back to Pilgrims, on a scholarship! The “Bonnie Tsai scholarship” which I am very proud of !  Bonnie, was the Pilgrims Teacher Trainer who changed my teaching, for ever!

Actually, words cannot express how grateful  I am to have been chosen as the scholarship recipient. My professional development has always been of upmost importance to me, and to be rewarded in this way is very humbling. That scholarship was an absolute answer to my prayers, as life does not always go as we plan. I will forever be thankful for this gift, and I cannot thank Pilgrims enough for that.

To learn more about the Bonnie Tsai scholarship, please, visit here.

Back to 2011….What colleagues who had been there before, had assured me of before I arrived there for the first time was that, the Pilgrims Humanistic approach was the key element, which made all the difference.

The Pilgrims Humanistic Approach, in brief:

  • Effective teaching & learning engages the whole person – mind, body and heart
  • The learner is the central person in the act of learning
  • Creativity, involvement and enjoyment are the essential elements for lifelong learning

“Pilgrims, does not teach a method, but teaches people”.

“Wow”! I thought, back then….

After a really long journey from my hometown in central Greece, to Canterbury, which lasted about 15 hours (!!) and suffering from sciatica and terrible pain, I arrived on Kent University campus ,where a lovely young student had been waiting for me, to help me carry my suitcase to my bedroom and help me “with anything else I might need”!

“Thank you Lizzie” I thought….I had no idea that she would have remembered my request to have an assistant waiting for me upon my arrival, to help me with my heavy suitcase ,upstairs!

Lizzie Wojtkowska-Wright is the Business Manager for Pilgrims Teacher Training who ensures all the details of our course with them are managed effortlessly. Lizzie and her team are there to answer all our questions before and during our course, so we can focus on enjoying every minute of it!

I stayed in a basic student bedroom in the college with a private shower and toilet. Including  bed and breakfast.Awesome! My bedroom window had a beautiful view over the little forest surrounding the campus and a couple of little squirrels and bunnies, were the first creatures I could see, every single morning , when I woke up and drew the curtains…

I had some rest and later, I went for a walk around the campus….

Such a beautiful place! Ideal for studying! A paradise!

Residential, teaching and administrative buildings are surrounded by green open spaces, fields and woods. I was within walking distance of all the excellent facilities the university had on offer including a Theatre and Cinema, a Library, a Campus Shop and bookshop, a pharmacy, an off-licence, banks and cashpoints, bistros, bars, cafés, bus stops and launderette.

I later found out, that the University of Kent is less than 20 minutes walk from Canterbury city centre.

One of the best ways to explore was on foot, allowing me to truly admire the historical architecture and exciting atmosphere of Canterbury. I often explored Canterbury and discovered for myself  the beauty of its best known attractions and best kept secrets, history and culture .

Whether you’re interested in history, culture, shopping, country walks, the seaside, or eating out – Canterbury and its surroundings has it all! For example, a short bus drive away lies the quintessential seaside town of Whitstable, featuring beautiful beaches, cafes, art galleries…I will never forget the day I first visited it, with my friends Marta and Jose from Spain and Emma from Holland! We had a blast! I was lucky to visit it again this year, together with my good friend Tulay from Turkey ! Jim and Lizzie, were our hosts and both made us feel very welcome, in their picturesque hometown!

To me, Pilgrims Teacher Training courses empower you to be a highly effective, motivated and inspired teacher. Pilgrims, is its people…

Jim Wright, is the heart and soul of Pilgrims!

Jim is an amazing person, who has been my facebook friend all these years and whom I truly admire and respect.He is a positive thinker, with a great sense of humour!

He is the Principal of Pilgrims Teacher Training in Canterbury and is responsible for the overall management, vision and continued growth of Pilgrims. He is really passionate about creating an environment where inspiration, transformation and feeling good about ourselves are possibilities for all staff and participants.

I saw Jim again, this year and realised that he is such an inspiration himself!

He is a man who understands that greater happiness lies in helping others, not helping himself. Jim is a gentleman: polite, respectful, considerate and attentive to all the trainees’ needs, at Pilgrims! Having integrity, is another very important characteristic of him!

His most important characteristic though, is his positive attitude, which may be difficult to find today,since we live in such a negative society. With his positive attitude, people want to be around him and  share the fun. He seems happy with his life and the world around him and he wants to look out for others and to help them. 

He is one of the Pilgrims smiling faces and always brightening up people’s days.

But, the best part about the Pilgrims experience for me, was the training courses I attended !

By having read their brochure, before I applied, I knew that I would get

  • 22.5 hours per week Training Course
  • Up to 10 additional hours of Afternoon and Evening Activities
  • Work in multinational groups
  • Free Seminars, Workshops and Activities to choose from at 16:00 or 20:00 on 3 or 4 days per week.

These workshops usually include : Idioms Update• Fun with Poetry• Songs and Music• Yoga• Storytelling• Teaching Through Art• NLP• Relaxation Techniques• Using Metaphor •Multiple Intelligences• Shakespeare• Joke Telling• Lexical Approach• British Life & Culture• Folk Dancing• Drama Workshop• Grammar Around You• Tai’ Chi• Alphabet Games• Teaching Pronunciation• The Creative Use of Texts• Salsa Dancing• Celtic Evening

I had my best time in those afternoon classes, where I shared unforgettable fun moments with my international colleagues! Concerning this year,I will never forget the afternoon dancing classes fun!

My most favourite afternoon trainers, back in 2011,were Adrian Underhill who taught me pronunciation through his beautiful music and  Peter Dyer , who utilised his drama experience with his teaching methodology.

Adrian, helped me fix the wrong way I used to pronounce ‘“G” sounds…..Adrian also, taught me how to incorporate his Pron Chart layout into my teaching, first just to help myself, and gradually reveal it to my learners as they became ready for it.

It was the best introduction to the phonemic chart I could ever have had.

He gave me a huge boost of confidence as I realised it wasn’t as scary as I thought, and using the chart as Adrian does was incredibly engaging.

One thing that stood out for me was that he advised us not to wait to use the chart in class until we were ready, but to dive in and go on a journey with the learners.

His  chart is now an integral part of my lessons.

Peter’s classes were aimed at any teacher with a relatively good level of English and they were all about making us feel more relaxed about the way we communicate, to be more responsible about how we fit in with the world both professionally and privately. He used to tell us that, “As teachers, we are actors. Even the  first entrance to a classroom is terribly, terribly important. We need to be aware of our appearance, gestures but voice as well.”

I admire Peter’s work and I have been his fan, all these years! So happy, I managed to attend his afternoon classes again, this year!

In 2011,I decided to attend  Bonnie Tsai’s NLP course which has practically changed the way I have been teaching since then and has deeply influenced me as a person!

For me, Neuro Linguistic Programming was something very new and certainly challenging. I chose it because somewhere deep inside I wanted a change. There was something in my teaching or my approach to teaching that seemed to be missing or out of tune. I was looking for answers that were deep inside of me waiting to be uncovered.

NLP enabled me to explore deeply learning styles and teaching styles.

What I remember the most about that course though, is  the joyful period of giving and receiving little sincere messages of thanks and gratitude, called metaphorically, “FISH.”

I am thankful to Bonnie! I will always be…

In her lifetime, Bonnie inspired many people, like myself, with her natural desire to learn and understand the magic of it. When I heard of her premature death, I prayed to thank her for inspiring me and opening me to change…

Bonnie transformed people’s lives. She became  my mentor and  inspiration !

With her help, I learned to see the teaching process through the student’s perspective and also saw that students have different ways of learning and we have to adapt our methods to the students, not the other way round. She showed me that teaching was not only a profession but an art, and the teacher is an artist that interacts with his/her students in a creative way.

The most vivid memory though was the day, she had us walk outside the classroom , in pairs, one behind the other, freely moving around, dancing or hopping, jumping or running, following our partner’s movement and trying to “walk in his/her shoes” in order to achieve rapport! Rapport is important. We need rapport to influence others, to teach and learn, to achieve difficult tasks in groups and even to mate….

That special day, Bonnie asked ME to be her walking partner! I still remember the feeling…She was walking in front of me, and I had to walk in the same way, avoiding obstacles on the way and forgetting about my own sciatica pain for a while!….Bonnie taught me rapport and humanity.

I still remember the day, Stefania Ballotto, an amazing Teacher Trainer, and Bonnie’s close friend, visited our class to teach us about Brain Gym!

Stefania’s lesson was so inspiring ! The very next day, Bonnie asked me to demonstrate few of those Brain Gym activities! Somehow,that turned out to be the most hilarious lesson, ever..!  Bonnie, thanked me in the end, for…” all that fun”!

As for Stefania Ballotto … I ‘m looking for adjectives to describe this outstanding teacher trainer!

She is so inspiring, caring, dedicated and committed! She is a devoted teacher passionate about her work !

She’s just….Supercalifragilisticexpialidoci ous!! She inspired me, the very first time I saw her teach!

All in all, what I got from the Pilgrims Course was more confidence and now I really believe in myself.

And I also made and kept great friends : inspiring and inspired educators with most of whom we have already  created strong partnerships! They have become members of my precious PLN and we are always there for each other  to help and support.

Pilgrims is a family…..I was so very happy to see Hanna Kryszewska again after so many years, in Thessaloniki, where she was one of last year’s Tesol M.T.N.Greece Convention presenters!

Hanna is a Pilgrims trainer and editor of HLT Magazine, which has been my ELT Bible, all these years! She is such a friendly person and an inspiring educator!

She is also a teacher who believes in a humanistic approach to education ,like me…. Her Tesol MTNGreece Convention workshop, was actually about that approach!

Next time I manage to visit Pilgrims, I do hope to attend one of her classes !

When I told her that it was almost impossible for me to be able to visit Pilgrim’s again because of  the financial crisis in my country and the difficulties in funding opportunities, she rushed to suggest several alternative ways to help me achieve my goal ….

Amazing educators have promoted the Pilgrims Humanistic approach idea ,all these years, among whom:

Hanna Kryszewska, Paul Davis, Adrian Tennant, Magda Zamorska, Mike Shreeve, Daniel Martin, Linda Yael, Peter Dyer, Tim Bowen, Stephania Balloto, Aleksandra Zaparucha, Judit Feher, Isil Boy, Beyza Yilmaz, Julie Wallis and lots more outstanding professionals.

This year, I had the chance to meet a few of these outstanding people ,again: the always smiling Magda Zamorska,Mike Shreeve ( who was one of my two amazing teacher trainers in the “Teaching Difficult Learners” course-the other one was Phil Dexter ),Linda Yael (whose mother comes from Greece..Isn’t that cool? ), Judit Feher(who was Bonnie’s close friend), Julie Wallis ( so very helpful and always there for us all),Marina Marinova (who visited our course class and shared her personal story ,which inspired all of us so much),Mojca Belak ( I noticed that she’s a great dancer, among other things),and Amadeu Marin ( so energetic and fun to be with- like most Spanish people that I know)…..

And of course, for me ,as well as for most teachers that I know,“Pilgrims” calls the incredible Mario Rinvolucri to mind! I first met him in Athens, in one of Tesol Greece Conventions, a few years ago ! Actually , the first time I decided to go to Pilgrims , was because I wanted to see him again!

Mario started teaching English in my country ,Greece in the mid-1960s when there was nothing around called ‘methodology’.

I had been a regular reader of many of his articles in different publications as well as his  “Creative Writing” , before I meet him in person!

The book that deeply influenced my own teaching was “ Grammar Games: Cognitive, Affective and Drama Activities for EFL Students,CUP” .

Actually, I have used most of his books in my career, among which : Humanising Your Coursebook , Dictation: New Methods, New Possibilities , The Confidence Book: Building Trust in the Language Classroom , Using the mother Tongue, Once upon a time and so many more!

Mario, worked for Pilgrims since 1974, a period of 34 years or nearly half a career.

In 1999 , he became the founding editor of Humanising Language Teaching (HLT), my ELT Bible!

Pilgrims, is everything a traditional teacher training center isn’t.

In every moment Pilgrims Teacher Trainers are people that live values that attract positive attention throughout the world.

“Pilgrims is a company we love to work with and for” as they say…

They are so vibrant that new ideas and innovations arise one after another  through co-operation and creative energy.

They stand for the possibility of personal and professional transformation through their own continually transforming leadership, inspiration and coaching.

Conclusion:

People in Pilgrims, believe in a humanistic approach to language acquisition and to personal growth.

They have an overwhelming passion to develop the confidence of all our learners and guide them with support and enthusiasm to achieve their goals.

Pilgrims is a worldwide community of passionate people. Join them! I have!

P.S To know more about Pilgrims and how to apply for a course, you can visit its site. Dare to live the Pilgrims experience!

 

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Back-to-school fluency enhancing activities

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Fluency refers to how well a learner communicates meaning rather than how many mistakes they make in grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary. Fluency is often compared with accuracy, which is concerned with the type, amount and seriousness of mistakes made.

I personally, don’t believe that  fluency is a goal worth striving towards only with students who are at a fairly advanced level. I firmly believe  that the learning of a language is about communication, and I  feel that fluency should be the main goal in our teaching and that it should be practiced right from the start.

More traditional teachers may tend to give accuracy greater importance;In my classes, I tend towards fluency.

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Of course, we learn a language for communication, so I think that if a student is fluent but not accurate, it is still important to check whether the mistakes or errors can not block communication. Otherwise we need to correct any mistake that can be an obstacle to communication. I just want to stress out that being fluent without being accurate is not the issue we should focus on if communication is taking place effectively.

Let’s be honest: in terms of preparation for the world outside the classroom, fluency is sometimes even more important than accuracy.

Why I am more interested in fluency than accuracy in the early stages of language acquisition? Because,  I think back to my own elementary school days… I disliked teachers who singled out students for correction. I think correcting speech is counter-productive to learning. I think some students are initially going to have a difficult time learning English due to not comprehending what is being said and also due to vocalizing new words. So, if I correct everything said, students might feel that English is too difficult. They may perhaps tune out and/or become embarrassed and may develop a negative attitude to English.

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The most important thing for me has been to recall the wonderful teachers I have had in the past with a view to modeling them as much as possible in my own classrooms. And I have found reflecting on the outcome of my lessons brought me closer to the ideal. This I found was a positive way for me to improve my teaching and create an ever more joyful atmosphere for the learning of English as a foreign language for my young students.

Actually, I have realized that, it’s usually easier to become more accurate in a language!  Fluency is harder to master, so that’s what we should focus on at first, even  in the beginning of the school year! Especially, then!

An example I can give, comes from a close friend of mine, who loves learning languages. This is what she has told me…:”A long time ago when I learned French in a “Frontisterio” (  private Language Institutions in Greece) , the language teachers believed that the most important thing was grammar. So I learned French grammar very well—even to this day I am proficient. But I can hardly speak a sentence of French because no one cared about my fluency—only my accuracy.”

All in all, quite an important factor in education towards  cooperation, is the teacher’s attitude. If she favors a cooperative style of teaching generally and does not shy away from the greater workload connected with group work or projects, if she uses activities to increase fluency, then the conditions for learning to cooperate and develop fluency,  are good. The atmosphere within a class  can largely be determined by the teacher, who – quite often without being aware of it – sets the tone by choosing certain teaching methodology and practices.

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Activities that help to develop fluency focus on communication- for example discussions, speaking games, presentations…..

Here are just few ideas for icebreaker and fluency activities, suitable for a wide rage of students, which have worked in my classes.

a) Start with a ball of yarn.Say your name and an interesting fact about yourself.Then, holding an end, toss the ball to a student.The student will say his/her name and an interesting fact , then holding on to part of the yarn,toss the ball to another student.By the time everyone has spoken, there will be a large web of yarn that can be displayed on the bulletin board with thumb tacks, if you want!

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(This activity is excellent as a review tool, too.Each student says something about the subject, , then tosses the yarn)

b) Split the students in pairs. Each pair will have 30 seconds to find 5 things they have in common.At the end of the 30 seconds, put two pairs together and give the four a minute or so to find something all four students have in common.

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Finally, each group can present the list of things they have in common.(You can use this activity, to form student groups, too)

c)Pass around, a bag of M&Ms.Tell the students to take as many as they want.Once all the students have M&Ms, tell them that for each M&M, they took, they have to say/write one thing about themselves. For instance, if a student took 10 M&Ms , they would have to say/write 10 things about themselves, different for each color.

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Examples:

Green: something about school

Red: something about my family

Blue: something about my hobbies

Yellow: something about my future plans

Brown: something about my friends

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(Variation-use a roll of toilet paper, instead of M&Ms)

 

d)Me in a bag, has been one of my most favorite activities, for many years now…

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I put a few items that represent me in a large paper sack.I put a paintbrush because I love drawing, my favorite book , my favorite CD, a cookbook etc

The students, guess the significance of each item as I pull it out of the bag.This discussion helps the kids to know me as a person.

Each student then, has a turn to bring in his/her own ” Me in a Bag”, giving everyone in the class the chance to shine!

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e)Another fluency activity that I love, is “My timeline” or ” My numbers”.

I start the lesson by drawing a line on the board and and write important dates of my life on it.

Students ask me questions about my life to get them as answers.

For homework, students draw their own timelines.and they talk in pairs about them. I walk around listening…

Brainstorming!

Students playing and having fun, while learning new languages!

f) Music mingle , is also one of my favorite fluency activities.

Move with the music, stop when it stops, grab a partner and talk about a happy memory ( or anything else, eg holidays, favorites etc) until music starts again….

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g)True or False activities ,have always been my favorite ones!

I write 4 facts about myself and read them to my students. 3 facts are true but 1 is false.

Students take my little true-false test.Then, I survey students to learn the results. We go back over each question to see what they  thought about each statement.

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That gives a chance to tell them a little about me.

Then, on a sheet of paper, students write 3 interesting facts about themselves that are true and 1 that is false. A class discussion starts.

h)Open questions session: Sometimes, just a simple opportunity to ask questions, can benefit our class. When I have a few minutes, I open the floor for my older students to ask me questions.,They can be about anything! They just love it!

Learning a foreign language is not just a matter of memorizing a different set of names for the things around us… it is also an educational experience.

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Whatever the activity, think through the language they will need to complete it and include some kind of post-activity focus on form slot. Variety is important as anything can become dull if it’s done too often and is thus predictable. Vary the task, the seating arrangements, group size and materials used.

Good luck!

9 All about me: this is another favourite project of mine! We spend at least two lessons on it.First , I start by asking them to play the guessing game "Me in a bag": I take out of a bag several objects which have to do with my life and interests and ask the class to guess how they are related to me! I ask them to do the same during our next lesson for themselves and challenge their classmates to guess about them! Finally, they are assigned to write everything they consider important about themselves on this paper figure which is displayed on the classroom walls!

It is all about making real connections with our students…..

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There is a strong possibility that I’ll have to change school, next school year!

The school I am currently working in, is a small state school, with basic facilities, located  in a ,rather small, Greek town…

I admit that, I have faced many challenges  there, so far…

For example, I had to fund  my eTwinning and other projects , myself..!

Unfortunately, my headmasters were reluctant  to support my work, both financially and practically !

Therefore, I had to organize school Christmas Bazaars,in our English class, to earn some money, both for my class projects and the school needs in digital equipment, every year !

In the long run,  those Bazaars have been proven surprisingly  beneficial, for  my students! As beneficial, as our European projects and our end-of-the-school-year musicals and shows !

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So many great memories…!

Every single day, brought us all closer… Every precious day of learning together!

I have realized that,although professional development programs often speak to differentiated instruction, classroom management, technological growth, curriculum development, and standards creation, in the long haul, what fires an educator’s inner motor is to see that he or she has made a difference in a child’s life.

Connecting with students is satisfying and warms the heart.

After all,connecting with students is the reason most teachers teach, isn’t it?

MY suggested ways to make these teacher-student connection work?

Well…….After all these years of teaching experience, here’s my list.

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Don’t be “boring.”
This is foundational, I think…. Much disconnection starts here. And, weak communication is one root of “boring.”

 Capture their  attention.
As human beings, we are more attentive to that which is novel. One reason that some teachers-me included-  prefer to work with younger elementary students is that the world is still fresh to them.

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Making connections, in class…

 Motivate.

We all know that, if it is somewhat inconsistent with prior attitudes, it stimulates. If it stretches us too much, it will demotivate—we shut down. That is why a (sensitively) demanding  a teacher with high expectations, often gets good results.

Be caring

Where appropriate, the loving concern of a caring teacher, can strongly impact the resilience of a kid struggling to grow up.

Respect.
This one is not negotiable !No respect, equals no connection. Period. The kids say, “Respect us and let us respect you.” Connection will not happen if there is no perception of respect.

mosaic skype last3 Be reciprocal.
Do things together. Share common interests and concrete experiences.

 Create memories.

Memory matters. We should develop and encourage warm and positive memories of school time in our class!

 Spend time just chilling.
Listen. Be there for our students .The gift of time is an unparalleled treasure.

 Become a warm memory.
We may think that we don’t matter that much. We do. We cannot get out of the way. WE are the way. They are watching.

Last but not least: 

Be passionate

It can be a lot of hard work, and there can be moments when we just don’t necessarily have the energy.

I think that, rather than let ourselves get discouraged, we should try to think of it as a passion.

I also think that, if we have a fiery passion for what we’re teaching, it won’t be nearly as difficult to actually teach it !

Passion is something that most people have, but we don’t often channel it to whatever we are trying to do.

So……Let’s  Channel our passion!

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HERE’S MY FAREWELL VIDEO….THE HARD WORK ,OF AN AMAZING SCHOOL YEAR, IN PICTURES!

Dedicated to those beloved students! I  miss them already….

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Off to knew challenges=new opportunities , next school year! Off to new adventures!